Brunswick water polo finishes magical season strong

In only its third season as a varsity program, the Brunswick School water polo team not only qualified for the New England Prep School Water Polo League tournament, but took third place overall, beating Deerfield Academy, 9-7.

“I am really proud of these kids,” Brunswick head coach Eric Tillman said. “They worked really hard. The weather situation last week really handed us a curveball, but we managed to get through it. Our goal was to make it to the final four.”

 

Against Deerfield, the Bruins were battling throughout. Brunswick took an early 3-0 lead, but Deerfield came back and took a 4-3 lead. However, Brunswick pulled away late to claim victory.

Matt Marvin finished with four goals. Alex Prout and Pat Stefanou added two goals each, while Julian Ronda and Connor Kupersmith each finished with one goal.

Prout was stellar at dishing the ball, netting a team-high three assists, while Ronda and Kupersmith each added two in the winning effort.

Brunswick goalie Sander Profaci was strong in net, finishing with seven saves.

“We went out and scored the first three goals and looked really good, but then we sort of lost our focus and Deerfield came back strong,” Tillman said. “Early third period, we were down 4-3 and then later in the game down 6-5. The kids could have said that we came a long way and played good enough, but we fought back hard and found ways to score. It was nice to see them work so hard to achieve one more win.”

In the opening game, the Bruins fell to the Liquid Four champions Exeter, 6-2. The brother combination of Eric and Ian Ronda were the lone scorers for Brunswick, while Profaci added nine saves and six steals in the losing effort.

“We lost to Exeter and couldn’t put the ball in the net,” Tillman said. “What was special was that we came back from that game and played a hard-fought game against Deerfield. I am proud of their resolve, resiliency, commitment and they are a lot of fun to coach.”

With the victory against Deerfield, Brunswick finished the season with a highly-impressive 16-4 record. Not bad for a team that started playing at the varsity level three years ago. Although Tillman had an idea that his team could do something special, he wasn’t the only one.

Two years ago when Brunswick played Exeter at Deerfield, the head coach of Deerfield, Don Mills, came up to Tillman and was quite impressed with the young Bruins.

“We have long thought that this team would be good and that they are a bunch of kids that could do something special,” Tillman said. “I thought we could make the final four this year, but I wasn’t sure how well we would do. However, this is a team that people have been watching for a long time. Two years ago, Exeter coach Don Mills came over to me and said that this is a program that’s going places. It’s not like we’ve surprised anybody. As the kids have gotten older and bigger and more skilled, it was where we thought they should be. They’ve worked hard to achieve the level of success that they reached this year.”

This year, Brunswick was led by Stefanou, who finished with a team-high 65 goals. He also added seven assists and 19 steals. Matt Marvin also had a stellar season, finishing with 43 goals, nine assists and 10 steals. Not to be outdone was Prout, who added 30 goals, 12 assists and 20 steals. Kupersmith pitched in with 19 goals and five assists, but was second on the team with 38 steals.

“Connor is our defense and he brings the tenacity of a wrestler to that position,” Tillman said. “He annoys all kinds of people we play against. We’re going to miss his leadership, both in and out of the pool. He’s a true team player.

Right behind Kupersmith was Eric Ronda, who finished the season with 14 goals, seven assists and 25 steals.

“Eric Ronda is a world-class swimmer and that added a whole other dimension to our team,” Tillman said. “Ian Ronda can also get out on the fast break quickly and that makes a huge difference.”

Eric and Ian Ronda’s brother, Julian Ronda, helped out with 11 goals and four assists, but also had 28 steals.

“We lost two seniors off last year’s team, but we knew we had the core coming back for this season,” Tillman said. “It was all about the core players getting a little bit bigger, a little stronger and a little more confident. It was all about the natural growth process. The only thing we needed to see was how good they could be and how they could mesh together as a team.”

In net, no one was better than Profaci, who was the rock for the Bruins throughout his three tyears on the team. Throughout the season, Profaci gave up only 84 goals and made an impressive 194 saves. He also added 67 steals and 16 assists to his stat line.

“Sander is a really good goalie and sometimes our kids kind of take that for granted,” Tillman said. “He’s the only goalie they’ve done. He was like our backstop. His outward passes were accurate, he understands the game and he’s like a high level of stability in the net that’s helped us move forward. We knew most shots were going to get stopped and that gives the offense and defense a ton of confidence.”

At the end of this season, Brunswick is going to have to look for some new athletes to step up, as talented water polo players Kupersmith, Profaci, Eric Ronda, Ian Ronda, Holden Fett, Joe Caruso and Stephen Duplessie will be graduating in May.

“It’s going to be difficult to repeat this,” Tillman said. “This is like stage one for us. I am graduating three kids that were in it from the beginning and a lot of talented seniors. What this team needs is a new set of leadership to get to phase two. We are going to bring up good kids from the middle school. We can keep this going, but we got two significant boys that we’ve need to replace, in Connor Kupersmith and Sander Profaci. They set the standard here for work ethic and tenacity and I need to find someone for next year that will inspire the team that way. Holden is a great captain, provides leadership and knows how to talk to his players. His leadership role will be hard to replace.”

While the players have consistently improved since the program started, Tillman believes the team’s recent success wouldn’t have been accomplished without the help of assistant coach Ulmis Iordache.

“He’s done a great job teaching these kids how to play water polo,” Tillman said. “Outside of Sander and Pat Stefanou, most of the kids on the team weren’t great water polo players. He’s taught them the game and that’s made a huge difference. He knows the game inside and out and every day, a piece of wisdom slips out and I am making sure the kids have that.”

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